Until now, you may have believed that it was a good thing to have lots of skills and an over-abundance of job experience. After all, you’ve worked hard over the years to build that portfolio and to earn every line on your resume. In the sometimes-backwards world of the job hunt, that gold-plated resume may actually be sending up red flags to your prospective employer.
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The manager may be concerned that you won’t be willing to accept direction, that you’ll get bored or that you won’t work well with co-workers, or that you’ll continue to look for a more senior-level (and higher-paying) position. Or, the real reason could have something more to do with your age. (Not that you’ll hear about it: for legal reasons, most prospective employers are a bit more delicate about insinuating that you’re too old, or that you’ll be retiring in a few years). According to the AARP, “one in five people ages 54 to 65 say they worry that they’ll be considered overqualified for the job.”
When you first hear the feedback that you’re “overqualified,” it may feel like a slap in the face. You may wonder how it could possibly get worse.
Fortunately, you can take action to correct the stigma, and to overcome those “overqualified” blue:
- Resume: Trim it down. Only focus on those skills that are relevant to the current job opportunity. You may also consider reworking your resume into a more skills-focused or platform-focused document (making sure that you’re addressing the job requirements that are relevant in your background). The AARP also recommends that you “list all technology credentials, including recent training and certifications.” (Consider designing multiple versions of your resume, specifically targeting varying levels of experience. That way, it’ll be ready to go when you need it — perfectly proofed.)
- Words: Be aware of those tell-tale signs that you’ve been around a while (and/or that you’re nearing retirement). Those potentially problematic buzzwords can creep into your resume, cover letter, and interview. You may reference your years of experience, or an event that happened before the hiring manager was even born. If the “overqualified” feedback is associated at all with your age (or ability to learn), focus instead on recent innovations you’ve incorporated into your work, writing, or life. Using the research you’ve already conducted on the company, you can also specifically reference how you would use what you’ve learned to benefit the company.
- Education: Leave the Ph.D. or M.A. off your resume and cover letter, unless it’s required for the job. Those few extra letters could make prospective employers fear that your advanced degree is also indicative of your career goals (which may run counter to their job offering).
- Salary: You must address the money question, head-on. When pay is the “elephant in the room,” Karen Burns at U.S. News cautions, “Do not sound desperate. Sound flexible. Sound realistic.” Assure the prospective employer that salary is not your only or most-important consideration, and that you’re looking at other factors (like passion, co-workers, etc.) in your ideal workplace.
- Authenticity: Ask clarifying questions. As J.T. O’Donnell explains at LinkedIn, “You must acknowledge and validate his feelings. Perception is reality. Right now, his reality is you aren’t a fit. You can’t change that … yet.” By being open to discussion, and not offended, you can get a better sense of what you’re doing (or saying) that turned them off (or made them think you were overqualified), so you can fix the issue in future resumes/cover-letters/interviews.
- Commit: If you’re able (and willing), consider making a contractual or verbal commitment to the prospective employer. It may be the price you have to pay to find a job. When you make a commitment, you’ll want to also highlight how you’re been loyal to employers in the past, and why you promise to give them the same level of dedication and service as you have given before. You’ll also want to demonstrate how your long-term tenure will positively impact the company (with specifics, if possible). “For example, if performance management is going to be a job responsibility the candidate can reference the existing practice, and how it can be modified — and how the candidate can implement the modifications — by following incremental steps over an extended period of time,” says Lori B. Rassas, author of Employment Law: A Guide to Hiring, Managing and Firing for Employers and Employees.
- Acceptance: Ultimately, if you’ve addressed all the potential concerns, and your name still didn’t make the cut, there may be more to the decision than simply your over-abundance of skills and experience. You can get upset, or depressed, but the reality is still going to be the same. You didn’t get a job. Let yourself feel the loss (it’s inevitable, particularly if you loved the job, and thought you’d be the perfect fit). Then, move on. Go back to your job search with the same passion — the next one may just be your dream job.
While most of these techniques will get you past the hiring manager’s initial qualms, sometimes, you’ll still wind up with the “overqualified’ label. Instead of getting the blues, or feeling like a failure, celebrate the wealth of knowledge that you’ve earned. It’s not always easy, but if you’re able to focus on the positive, you’ll find more opportunities right around the corner.
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